It didn't take jurors long to rule that Bubba 'The Love Sponge' Clem was within his First Amendment rights when he engaged in what his attorneys called a "radio war" with rival show host Todd 'MJ' Schnitt.
After only three hours of deliberations, the jury rejected claims of defamation by MJ's attorneys. It was a quick end to a lawsuit that took years to come to trial and over two weeks to play out in court.
"I'm a nervous wreck but it's a great day for media," Clem told FOX 13's Gloria Gomez after the verdict. "This is a landmark case for media. This is for Saturday Night Live and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Back and, oddly enough, MJ himself."
In closing arguments earlier Wednesday, MJ's attorney told the jury that his client had been through hell over the past five years, the victim of verbal attacks from Bubba and the so-called "Bubba Army."
He cited the egging of his house in 2008 with a note left behind saying "Bubba's Army." He cited another alleged incident where a fan tried to run MJ off the road.
Attorney Phil Campbell told jurors the Schnitts had to change their lifestyle because of all the alleged abuse, and he said Bubba went after MJ with vengeance on his radio show.
"Remember in terms of the evidence," Campbell said to the jury, "what did Mr. Clem say in his press conference – his initial press conference? 'Ninety percent of us returning to the FM dial, 102.5, is revenge.' Not to talk about Bubba's events or controversies or sports. Revenge."
Bubba's attorneys, however, told the jury that this trial came down to free speech. They said Bubba had the right to say anything he wanted without creating harm. They also said no one listens to Bubba's show for objective "facts."
Bubba's attorney called it a "radio war" between two "radio giants," and when MJ didn't like how things were going, that's when he decided to sue.
"Mr. Schnitt wants you to believe that there was no radio war," attorney Steve Diaco said. "And that he never engaged, but before the broadcast he was quoted as saying, ‘Mr. Clem needs to invent a pseudo-war against me to reintroduce his clown act. Name-calling – called him a clown. He said all he needs is a big red nose and floppy shoes. It's funny. It's an insult. It's engaging in a radio war. Well, what do you do when you're in a radio war and you're not winning: Sue, sue, sue."
MJ was seeking damages of $18,000. He said he paid for a security system of that amount after the egging incident.
But the jury declined to award him a single cent. An alternate juror -- excused from deliberations and free to talk -- told FOX 13 that she thought MJ's team failed to make much of a case.
In fact, Alana Wilshire said the trial had been "absolutely" a waste of time and expense.
"I think anybody that runs and cries and hides in their house because someone called them a name kind of needs to grow up," she said. "Develop a thicker skin. Especially if you're in the public eye."
The trial included mistrial requests by both sides after Campbell was arrested for DUI in what MJ's team called a setup by Clem's team.
After the verdict Wednesday, Clem apologized for what a "great waste of taxpayer dollars" that he characterized as a "name-calling, fifth-grade bully-fest." But he didn't miss the opportunity to take one more jab at his rival.
"I can tell you this," he vowed, "we're going to have an MJ funeral in the streets soon, I'll tell you that."
For his part, Todd 'MJ' Schnitt told FOX 13 that he was disappointed but respected the jury process. He took to Twitter for further comment.
"I feel good that we took the high road and will always be comfortable with the fact that we did the right thing," he wrote. "My wife & I were protecting our reputations & also standing up for so many others who have been defamed, but didn't have the means to fight."
Clem said late Wednesday he's considering suing MJ to recover his legal fees.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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